Getting involved is good for business
22 January 2007
Bill Roedy, President of MTV Networks International and UNAIDS Special Representative talks to the Executive Director of the Global Business Coalition on HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria John Tedstrom about media's involvement in the AIDS response.
Q. Bill, you’ve had an amazingly diverse professional life-you were a career officer in the U.S. Army for almost seven years before you transitioned to television and joined MTV in 1989. When did AIDS first emerge on your radar screen and what made you passionate about the issue?
A. It’s always been important to me. More importantly, it’s always been important for MTV too. We’ve been involved in this issue for 25 years, and the reason that we continue to strive to find news ways of getting our message out is because 40 % of new HIV infections are amongst those under 25, which is our core audience.
Q. From the beginning of the epidemic, I’ve always admired how MTV has pushed the envelope, producing public service announcements on HIV, introducing viewers to positive people, and encouraging young people to protect themselves and get tested. Did you ever worry that the company would receive backlash for being so bold?
A. No, in fact I have always viewed doing nothing as not being an option. Using our global network to communicate HIV prevention messages is one of the most important things we can do to contribute to this cause. I would like to encourage other companies to play to their strengths and look at how they can contribute too. We all have a role to play.
Q. Does MTV’s strong position on AIDS serve as a recruitment and retention tool for employees, or help the company bring the right people on board?
A. There have been many studies done which show staff appreciation when their company and senior management are involved in social causes. I would hope that our involvement in the AIDS response as well as other issues, such as children’s rights and the environment, serves as an attraction for existing and future staff members.
Q. This past World AIDS Day, after completing an enormously successful eighteen months as the Chair of the Global Media AIDS Initiative (GMAI) Leadership Committee, you turned the position over to Dali Mpofu. Kofi Annan sang your praises: "Bill Roedy has mobilized media companies around the world to make unprecedented commitments to HIV prevention through innovative campaigns and programming." Can you explain why prevention efforts are still so important?
A. Prevention efforts are still important because the worldwide response to HIV and AIDS has not matched the scale of the disease. 40 million people are infected. Prevention is important because no one needs to contract HIV. Education can prevent infection. The UN believes that effective education programmes can significantly cut infection rates.
I want the media and business to show global leadership by educating the world to prevent the spread of HIV. Education can also lessen the stigma associated with the illness. Only with significant and widespread education campaigns can you hope to counter stigma. Education destroys prejudice and ignorance. Education encourages tolerance.
Q. At the June 2006 U.N. High Level Meeting on AIDS, you made a great comment, noting that over the course of the week, 43,000 people were infected with HIV but that this fact does not garner the media attention that results when the same number of chickens are infected with Bird Flu. Do you worry that a false sense of complacency is affecting media coverage and making our disease response suffer?
A. Yes. There is complacency in the media. There has been a great deal of suffering reported in the media: earthquakes, tsunamis & hurricanes, not to mention the Iraq war and Afghanistan. But it’s worth remembering that the numbers killed by AIDS last year would have equaled a dozen Asian tsunamis, or dozens of earthquakes.
The reality is that infection levels have not reduced. While treatment is prolonging life in some parts of the world, the reality is that in many parts of the developing world, HIV infection rates are rising and AIDS still leads to premature death.
Q. Since its January 2004 launch, GMAI has expanded rapidly. Is there room for additional growth and if so, how do you propose generating it?
A. Yes, there is always room for growth and improvement. We want every media company to be involved. There is endless scope for input from everyone, great and small. We want HIV education and prevention information to be part of the DNA of every media company.
And those roles extend to advertising and PR, not just creative producers. MTVN’s Staying Alive HIV and AIDS education campaign has just collaborated with the world’s leading advertising agencies to produce HIV prevention messages. They are not only being aired across MTV’s web and mobile platforms, but are also being picked up by 35 other broadcasters and content distributors globally.
We offer Staying Alive material rights free to all broadcasters, so that our Staying Alive programming regularly reaches over 90 percent of the top 50 heavily AIDS impacted countries.
Q. What can non-media companies do to ameliorate disease misperceptions and stigma surrounding those infected with and affected by the disease?
A. There is a role for everyone: workplace programmes, community outreach programmes, local partnerships. The key is not to reinvent the wheel but to seek advice about what you can do. There are people that companies can reach out to, such as the Global Business Coalition on HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, who can advise and suggest roles in any country or market around the world.
Q. You’ve been an important part of the Global Business Coalition on HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria family since its earliest days. As someone who fully understands why AIDS is a business issue, how would you make this pitch to businesses that are not yet convinced the disease impacts them?
A. I’d say that getting involved is good for business and good for employee morale. It helps communities and it shows leadership. Companies working in high-impact countries note improvements in productivity, morale and staff turnover. The more infection is prevented, the better for all. We’re all in this together.
Mr. Bill Roedy is the Vice Chairman for MTV Networks, and President of MTV Networks International (MTVNI).
Through his extensive travels and advocacy, Mr. Roedy was invited to become a Special Representative for UNAIDS in 1998. He leads MTVNI’s global efforts to promote HIV education, fight complacency and lessen the stigma attached to the disease, through the Staying Alive campaign. Under his leadership, MTVNI has produced award-winning AIDS-related documentaries, concerts, discussion programmes and public service announcements.
In April 2005, then UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan appointed Mr. Roedy as Chair of the Global Media AIDS Initiative (GMAI) Leadership Committee. The GMAI was launched in 2004 to galvanise media organisations to play a stronger role in the fight against HIV and AIDS. The Leadership Committee develops the overall vision and priorities of the GMAI and supports the creation of local, regional and global media campaigns and partnerships.
Mr. Roedy has also served as Chair of the Global Business Coalition (GBC) on HIV and AIDS from 2000-2002. In 2002 US President Bill Clinton, on behalf of the GBC and the International AIDS Trust, honoured him with the Award for Business Excellence for his outstanding contributions. In November 2004 Mr. Roedy accepted the International Emmy Founders Award at the 32 nd International Emmy Awards, for revolutionising music on television and supporting the fight against AIDS around the world.
The Global Business Coalition on HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria (GBC) mobilizes international business against HIV/AIDS and recently added tuberculosis and malaria to its mandate. The rapidly expanding alliance of 220 international companies is dedicated to combating these epidemics through the business sector’s unique skills and expertise. The official focal point of the private sector delegation to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, GBC maintains offices in New York, Paris, Geneva, Johannesburg, Nairobi, Moscow, Kiev and Beijing. In August 2006, the organization began a merger process with Transatlantic Partners Against AIDS (TPAA) to strengthen business engagement in Eastern Europe and the former CIS.
More information on UNAIDS Private Partnerships